REVIEW: Namco Museum

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

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By


Namco Museum Box Art
Title Namco Museum
Developer Bandai Namco Entertainment
Publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release Date July 28, 2017
Genre Retro Arcade
Platform Nintendo Switch
Age Rating ESRB T for Teen
Official Website

I find it particularly interesting that in a year full of so many amazing new games, here I am reviewing a string of remakes and re-releases. But as I stated in my review for Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, video game curation is very important. For this game, Namco Museum, there was a lot less remastering or remaking but there were still plenty of quality of life improvements. Other than Pac-Man Vs., which is a GameCube game, this collection represents a swath of Namco arcade games from 1980 to 1991. Not only is there a large difference between how games were made back then, but there is also a significant difference between playing a game in an arcade and playing it on a handheld console. Bandai Namco did small and subtle changes, but they can make all the difference.

Namco Museum | Main Menu

Could there have been more games? Yes, but the ones here are very beloved.

There are eleven games included in the Namco Museum collection, but none are more iconic than the first game, Pac-Man (1980). While the game certainly shows its age by the simplicity of its design, it still continues to be routinely played even 37 years later. Honestly most of my playtime with Pac-Man was the Atari Home Console (2600) version, but this is the arcade perfect original. Well, I think it’s arcade perfect. I would have to play a perfect game to know if the famous glitched last level (256) still exists in this version, but I trust Namco that this is that exact version. Perfect games are still fairly rare, even now.

The next game on the roster is even more beloved for me, and that is Galaga (1981). I have done many space shooter reviews for Operation Rainfall, and you can point to this game as the reason why. It was my first, and I still feel drawn to play it whenever I find a version of it still running out in the wild, as rare as that is nowadays. Dig Dug (1982) is the last game on here that pretty much anyone who knows anything about video games has to have at least heard of. While this one never hit me like Galaga or Pac-Man, I still ended up playing this one a fair amount. Perhaps it’s due to the arcades I frequented, but hearing the music of Dig Dug is more iconic to me than actually playing the game. It has a very memorable song that really gets stuck in your head.

Namco Museum | DigDug

Having the option to change the screen position is great, especially on a widescreen handheld.

The next set of games are a little more esoteric, but many of them are still considered classics as well. The first of these is The Tower of Druaga (1984), a top-down action RPG game that really shows its age but still helped progress the genre between Adventure and The Legend of Zelda. It definitely skews much more towards Adventure though, so it is a rather simple dungeon crawler with the seeds of where the genre was heading. Sky Kid (1986) is a game that passed me by. I never did see it in arcades where I’m from. However, it is actually one of the more fun side-scrolling shooters from that period and featured some fairly innovative concepts, like picking up your bombs and landing the plane at the end of each level.

Rolling Thunder (1987) however was a game that I spent a lot of money on. Not only was it a very good looking game for its time, but it is the first of these titles to have a real story and discrete levels. Thankfully I’m not having to bring a roll of quarters with me, but it was still a lot of fun going through this game again. The controls are a little simple compared to later side scrolling games like Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi, but the James Bond style of this game still really sets it apart.

Namco Museum | Galaga'88

I am retroactively annoyed that I never was able to play Galaga ’88 in arcades originally.

Galaga ’88 (1988) is where this collection really enters the modern age, in my opinion. Not only is it the first sequel in this collection (although not the first sequel made by Namco), but you can really see the refinement in both graphics and playability. Of all the games in the collection, this is the one that I’ve played the most and it’s probably the one that I’ll go back to the most. It still really stands up to many modern shooters and maintains its own charm. Unfortunately I never saw this in arcades back in the day, but that’s probably for the best or I would have spent way too much money on it.

Possibly the most interesting game on this list is the next one, Splatterhouse (1988). There is really only one reason for this collection to get the T for Teen ESRB rating, and that is this title. This side-scrolling brawling game is basically Jason Goes To Hell, the video game. Of course, they didn’t have any rights to Jason Vorhees, so they had to alter his look a bit over the years. But for this release they were thankfully able to go back and restore the game to its original arcade version instead of the censored TurboGrafx-16 version that was released in North America. Of course, the blood is green and the game was censored but it still provoked tons of outrage in the late 80s-early 90s. I still really love the graphic style of the game and it has even more story than Rolling Thunder did, so I was happy that this game made it in, even on a Nintendo system.

Tank Force (1991) is a game that I also never played before, but it mostly plays like a much more fleshed out version of the tank battles in the classic Atari game Combat. The last arcade game in the collection is my second-most played game for review, Rolling Thunder 2. I only ever saw the game once in an arcade, and that was when I was traveling. I suspect that my local arcades did not get it due to the slightly sexy image on the outside of the arcade cabinet. This game was very ahead of its time not only for featuring a very obviously female protagonist, but also she was considered the main character even while you could play as a male agent as Player 2. The graphics were a significant improvement over the first game, but it still retains most of the controls, so if you can finish the first one it’s really easy to get into the sequel.

Namco Museum | Challenge Mode

Each game features its own Challenge Mode, along with its original arcade version.

Having Pac-Man Vs. included in all these arcade classics is a nice addition, but I was never really a fan of that game on the GameCube. I think that’s more because I’m just not a fan of cooperative gaming overall, less than any lack of quality in the game. One nice thing with the Switch version is that you can play with one other player even if they do not own Namco Museum themselves. It is only for Pac-Man Vs., but it is a really nice addition. Likewise with nice additions are the Challenge Modes for each game. They have their own particular modes that are fashioned for each game and it was a nice little touch to get more replay value out of each game.

But really, the change that pushed it over the edge to a game that I plan on keeping on my Switch library (even with its extremely limited storage space) is the simple inclusion of save states. It may seem like a minor thing, but being able to save your game anywhere is a huge boon for these arcade games, particularly with a handheld console. While these games are generally designed to be very punishing in order to get more quarters out of you, once you get really good at them many of these games can be extremely long. The first perfect game of Pac-Man took Billy Mitchell six hours to complete (although the world record now is much quicker), and while not every game is quite that long, most of them can last you a good long while. Not only for practical concerns, it’s nice that you can even save that state and switch to another game. You are also given a choice (in each game’s option menu) to start out closer to where you ended off even without a save state, in case you want to skip to a part that was giving you difficulty without having to go through all the easier levels.

Namco Museum | Galaga

Playing an arcade perfect version of Galaga vertical like this is almost worth the money alone.

Most of these games are classics and there were zero bugs or issues while playing it, so there is really not much to complain about here. Really if there was one criticism to be had, it would be that it’s a little more expensive than other bundled retro games have been at $29.99. But as I have stated in the review, each game was given a lot of love and attention to detail. The overall sound quality of every game is pitch perfect. They aren’t complicated or orchestrated songs or sound effects, but they will put anyone old enough back into the arcade mindset immediately. Also, most of the borders to each game come from the arcade cabinets that I was playing at the time. The addition of the Challenge Modes gives more replay value to the whole set, giving you extra bang for your buck, but really the true draw is being able to play arcade perfect translations of all these wonderful games in your hands and on the go. Not only that, but many of these games (such as Galaga and DigDug) are meant to be played with a vertical screen, so this collection has a ton of value for that alone. There are some games that I really would have liked to see also included, and some sequels to the ones in this collection, but really there is not much to take away from a really good retro release on your new Switch console.

Review Score
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Review Copy Provided by the Publisher

About William Haderlie

Born in the 1970's, I've been an avid participant for much of video game history. A lifetime of being the sort of supergeek entrenched in the sciences and mathematics has not curbed my appreciation for the artistry of video games, cinema, and especially literature.